Hacking the vote -Should Al Shabaab make us worried about 2017 polls?

Cybersecurity is one of the biggest challenges Kenya has been trying to fight. Reports of government institutions being hacked by unknown people have been on the rise in recent times. In fact this year in May, the online hacktivist Anonymous conducted a sophisticated attack on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs servers stealing 1TB of data, some of which ended up on the Dark web.

The leaked data contained confidential and non-confidential files. They included email conversations, security related communication and even letters discussing the security situation in Sudan where the Kenyan government forces were fighting the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).

In 2012, an Indonesian hacker known as direxer also brought down 103 government of Kenya websites overnight. The hacker was part of an online Indonesian security forum known as Forum Code Security. He claimed he took down the websites following tutorials from the forum.

All these cases of hacking are challenges Kenyan should expect to encounter now and even in future. In an interview I had with Bethwel Opil, Channel Sales Manager for East Africa at Kaspersky Lab back in March on the state of cybersecurity in Kenya, cyber criminal activities are increasing globally. He notes that Cybercriminals are constantly looking for new ways to make their victims pay.

According to The 2015 Cyber Security Report by Serianu Cyber Threat Intelligence Team, the public sector in Kenya lost more than Sh5 billion from cybercrime attacks, followed by the financial services sector at Sh4 billion. The report revealed how many organizations lack enough staff and security expertise dedicated to IT security. The worrying thing is 21% of organizations including government institutions in Kenya are not concerned about cybercrime at all. This again is another challenge the country is grasping with.

That said, the Kenyan political system is so heated right now. with politicians engaging in bitter fights on whether the country should have an electronic system or run with the electronic system but have a manual backup system just in case the electronic system fails during the 2017 general elections. It’s an argument that has raised mixed reactions from different sectors, but it is the ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru claims that the electronic voting system might be hacked by terror group Alshabaab that has raised even more reactions.

Appearing before Senate committee on legal affairs, the ICT CS based the state’s push for a manual backup system on fears that Al Shabaab interference with the 2017 polls. ‘’We are at war with Al Shabaab who are known to interfere with communication systems,’’ he said.

One would, however, ask, why would the terror group want to hack Kenya’s electronic voting system? Or any other country’s electronic system for that matter.  These are the claims that the CS tried to justify while appearing before the senate committee. He says cartels are trying to use technology to frustrate Kenyans.

‘’We have realized early enough and the same technology will be used to control all that’’ The CS might be right about technology being used to control some things. The fact that any electronic system can be compromised cannot, however, be disputed.  Any electronic cyber infrastructure is prone to hacking. This has generated debate among Kenyans on social media. What interest would the terror group have in Kenyan elections?

During the recently concluded US election, there were reports that the Democratic National Committee emails and reports were hacked. The US government has publicly announced that it was ‘’Confident’’ Russia orchestrated this hacking. Those hacks resulted in the public release of thousands of stolen emails, many of which included damaging revelations about the Democratic Party and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the party’s nominee.

The CS further says that the electronic voting systems could lock out about 2.5 million voters from taking part in the 2017 General Elections.

As Kenya embrace electronic voting, it must take steps to ensure the security – and most, importantly the systems to ensure they do not fall victim to cybercrime. The first line of defense in protecting these systems is common sense. Applying the best practices of cybersecurity, data protection, information access and other objectively developed, responsibly implemented procedures will make it difficult for ‘’Alshabaab’’ to conduct cyber mischief.

We must, however, agree that new technology always comes with some glitches – even when it is not being attacked. The idea of Alshabaab hacking the system is one that will, however, continue to generate more debate among Kenyans. But why the connection?

Share with us your thoughts on this topic in the comments section below. You can also read the article on TechTrendsKE.

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KanaliSpeaks is a blog that focuses on current issues and all things governance.

kanalispeaks

KanaliSpeaks is a blog that focuses on current issues and all things governance.

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